MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When WVU takes the field under the lights to start the season at Penn State, there will be plenty of recognizable faces and names.
Players like Lee Kpogba (who head coach Neal Brown called an “unquestioned leader”), Aubrey Burks, Zach Frazier, and Sean Martin will be certified starters if healthy, but here are the players down the depth chart that WVU coaches are praising at the halfway point of fall camp:
Defensive Backs: Beanie Bishop, Jacolby Spells, Jordan Jackson
It seemed like every time a coach took the podium during the first week of fall camp, they would each bring up Minnesota transfer Beanie Bishop. Co-defensive coordinator ShaDon Brown called him an alpha, while Neal Brown echoed a similar sentiment, and also added that Bishop will be used as a
pawn knight piece in the return game. Bishop can also play outside corner or nickel/dime corner, too.
In the same breath, ShaDon Brown noted that fellow outside corner Jacolby Spells – a sophomore – made the “biggest jump in the room” during the offseason.
“[Spells] has really looked good through seven practices,” Neal Brown said. “My expectation was for him to be better, and he’s made plays. He’s made plays, not only on defense, but on special teams.”
All five corners on the preseason two deep (Bishop, Spells, Malachi Ruffin, Andrew Wilson-Lamp, Montre Miller) are receiving universal praise from their coaches, but one freshman cornerback is also catching eyes.
Jordan Jackson, a former running back in high school, received shoutouts from both defensive coordinators this week, and they expect him to have an immediate impact on special teams because of his above-average speed.
Linebackers: Tyrin Bradley and Jared Bartlett
Neal Brown’s biggest theme of fall camp is physicality in an effort to improve production on defense and special teams, and so far, Abilene Christian transfer Tyrin Bradley and redshirt junior Jared Bartlett are the poster children of the campaign.
“Defense is defense at the end of the day,” Bartlett said. “You got to be aggressive [and] play on your toes. [If you] play on your heels, you probably won’t make as many plays. You won’t look as good. It looks kind of soft. You got to be aggressive [to] make plays.”
Both Bradley and Bartlett are tabbed as bandits on the depth chart, and the coaches praised their versatility in the pass-rush game, as well as taking on blocks at the line of scrimmage.
“[Bradley is] 255-260 pounds and he’s got a physical demeanor about him,” Neal Brown said. “He showed up [Wednesday] in our short-yardage stuff.”
There have only been two practices open to the media so far, but it’s safe to assume that Bradley and Bartlett are cracking pads day-in and day-out.
Defensive Linemen: Mike Lockhart and Eddie Vesterinen
Defensive tackle Eddie Vesterinen made his first start as a freshman in 2021, and now he has the top tackle spot all to himself on the preseason depth chart.
“If you give me five-to-10 guys that’ll play like Eddie V, I’ll take that,” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “I’ll take that all day.”
Next to Vesterinen is Mike Lockhart at nose tackle, who has zero starts to his name entering 2023 but has rotational experience on which to fall.
“Mike Lockhart is a guy last year who contributed a little and now he’s making some strides,” Lesley said.
Lesley also noted that he believes the defensive front has gotten “a little bit bigger and a little bit longer” as a whole.
Wide Receivers: Devin Carter, Rodney Gallagher III
The signs are pointing toward Devin Carter becoming one of the top pass-catchers on the team. Amid a room filled with players from a variety of different backgrounds, Carter is the most experienced.
His 6-foot-3-inch, 215-pound frame also makes him an attractive third-down and red zone target when tight end production is to be determined after a slew of departures. In five seasons at NC State, he recorded 1,906 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Many teams inquired about Carter’s availability during the offseason.
“[WVU’s] whole receiver room kind of left, [so] this was the best option for me,” Carter said.
On the flip side of the position group, freshman Rodney Gallagher III was in middle school when Carter started his collegiate career, but they could potentially both be on the field at the same time this season.
Gallagher’s speed and athleticism are noteworthy, but Brown is most impressed with how the teenager handles the bright lights.
“Rodney Gallagher had to step to the free-throw line to win the WPIAL Championship not once, but twice,” Neal Brown said. “He had to do that in front of a full arena. So what that tells me is that he can handle pressure, and odds are when we go to Penn State, it’s not going to be too big for him.”
Running Back: Jahiem White
Freshman Jahiem White – the crown jewel of April’s Gold-Blue game – is leaving a lasting impression. The 5-foot-7-inch, 190-pound running back doesn’t always take first-team reps, but both Brown and offensive coordinator Chad Scott said he made the most of his early opportunities.
“He’s hard to find,” Scott said. “Talking about pad level, he’s got it naturally. He’s fast. He sees it really well. He’s got phenomenal vision. I’m excited to see what he can do with the ball in his hands.”